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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 08.05.08
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

The gravity of the situation

STANSTEAD, QC | "It tastes like salt water!"

Those were Deb's first words to me after she jumped out of an airplane.

Me, I think my first words would have been, "Clean underwear, pronto."

But back to Deb.

jumper

The air at 4000 metres apparently tastes like the ocean. Or at least it does when you're hurtling through it at 200 km/h and you've got your mouth open, even though the instructor advised you to keep it closed.

Our skeptical eldest daughter pointed out that the air couldn't be salty since salt is not carried up into the atmosphere. But what does she know? Did she jump from a plane? No. So there.

Deb has wanted to parachute for as long as I've known her. So, to mark her forty years on the planet, we arranged for her to leave it for a while.

We booked a tandem jump with Parachutisme NouvelAir in Farnham, Quebec. Tandem jumping is the express lane of parachuting; after fifteen minutes of instruction, you zip yourself into a nifty white jumpsuit, zoom off in a plane, strap yourself to a professional parachutist, and out the door you go.

No hours of lessons, no certification, no time to think, "Wait a minute; this is insane!" Just a quick and easy way to fall (hopefully gently) to the earth from very, very, VERY high up.

Who wouldn't want to do that? Well, me for one, just in case anyone's planning my next birthday.

I asked Deb's tandem partner if anyone ever balked once they realized there was nothing between them and the earth but some material connected to them by strings. He said, "I was in the door with one woman and I was at 'Ready, set...' when she said, 'I don't think I can do this.' But, of course, it was loud so naturally I didn't hear her..."

The moral of the story is that when you're strapped to someone at 4000 metres, your free will is somewhat limited.

Deb says she never thought about backing out. But in one of my photos, you can see the tension in her jaw. I know that jaw. Usually it shows up when I've left my dirty socks on the sofa.

"I've got butterflies," she whispered to James.

As her instructor belted her into her harness and tightened her straps -- clutching and grabbing at places that I wasn't allowed to navigate until at least a couple of dates -- friends and family looked on, making the inevitable jokes about -- you guessed it -- life insurance.

And then it was into the plane, a wave goodbye, and off she went.

Was I worried? Not really. But in one photo you can see the tension in my lips. I know that look. Usually it shows up when I'm thinking that dirty socks are hardly something to get upset about.

We stared into the bright sky trying to spot the plane as it circled back. "There it is! Can you see anyone free-falling?"

The answer was no. We couldn't see anyone free-falling because they weren't falling so much as plummeting. It was only when -- pop! pop! pop! -- the parachutes appeared in the sky that we saw our loved ones, or what we hoped were our loved ones. By the time we spotted the parachutes, if one of them hadn't opened, it was already too late.

Finally, we zeroed in on Deb coming in for a landing. She was smiling.

And what a smile. A huge, beaming, worth-every-penny smile as she walked off the landing field towards us.

"Holy cow!" she said. (Again, I might have used stronger language.)

What was it like? What was it like? we asked.

"I was terrified... in a good way."

Later, she told us that the first five or ten seconds out the plane door were the most scared she's ever been in her life. No wonder she forgot to keep her mouth closed.

"Debbie rocks!" her tandem partner said.

Indeed.

The only problem is, now that she's finally jumped out of a plane, she wonders what she's going to do next.

If it involves lawn chairs, sitting, and ample beverages, I'm in.

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